Pigeons: Are they one of nature’s most disease ridden animals?


When you ask people to name the world’s most disease-ridden animals, people usually name flies, rats or mice. But when you have a pigeon infestation, then Woody Allen’s description of pigeons as rats with wings suddenly hits the top of mind.

But, are pigeons dirty?

Let’s get a few facts out of the way. When we are talking about pigeons in Brisbane, we are talking about feral pigeons (accurately called a Rock Dove) and not the native crested pigeons or ones bred for pets or racing. Pigeons that are raised and cared for in captivity have no more diseases than any other bird.

Pigeon droppings on roof
Pigeon droppings on roof

Pigeons in general are known to be quite clean birds, happily taking regular baths and clearing their nests of eggshells after their babies have hatched. But their droppings make a serious corrosive mess.

Feral pigeons thrive by scavenging food from garbage bins, paths and sidewalks. This, by its very nature, means that they come into contact with unsavoury substances.

Where there is a plentiful food supply, then populations can boom. So the problem with pigeons comes from the sheer numbers of them, and the amount of pigeon droppings that result.

It has been estimated that a single pigeon excretes over 11kg of droppings in a year. Given the numbers of feral pigeons in Brisbane, the amount of pigeon droppings rapidly can build up in areas where they perch, roost or feed.

Because of a pigeon’s anatomy (pigeons fly with their feet drawn back under their body that covers their anus), they don’t poop in flight. Pigeons only poop when they are perched or walking around. 

It is the pigeon droppings that carry the greatest risk of disease transmission.

What diseases can you get from pigeons?

While human to pigeon disease transmission rates are low, there are still a number of problems with pigeon droppings.

Cryptococcosis is the most common disease associated with pigeons. It is a fungal lung infection that is caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans found in pigeon poop. Cryptococcosis is a common cause of meningitis as well as creating flu-like symptoms. This disease mainly affects immunocompromised people such as people undergoing cancer treatments or those who have HIV.

Psittacosis is a less common disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci that comes from pigeon secretions and droppings. Its symptoms are similar to the flu. Histoplasmosis is another fungal lung infection caused by the Histoplasma capsulatum fungus found in bird droppings.

Campylobacter and Salmonella poisoning via faecal-oral transmission is another potential problem, where pigeon poop accidentally is ingested through incorrect cleaning or contaminated water.

How to clean up pigeon droppings

Because of the high risk of lung-born diseases, pigeon droppings should always be wetted down before attempting to clean them, and appropriate safety equipment worn. Our pigeon team can help you to eradicate problem pigeon colonies humanely and to safely clear pigeon poop from your property. Call us for a free quote!